Research Essay on Drunk Driving

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I. Hypothesis/Goal

The hypothesis of this research study seeks to use variables such as age, gender, race, and other theoretical concepts to determine how these variables affect the likelihood of the decisions of offenders to commit crimes based on rational choice theory. Four hypotheses introduced (related to previous studies) suggest older people are considering social costs since they may have more to lose or have a higher degree of social bond (Sampson & Laub, 1993). Secondly, people with stronger social bonds may be more perceptive of social costs in comparison to other costs (Hirschi, 1969). The third hypothesis which was introduced by Nagin & Paternoster (1994) suggests that those with low self-control do not regard social bonds as relevant compared to other types of costs. Lastly, individuals who have engaged in prior similar criminal behavior are less likely to regard the legal risks as relevant to their actions (Paternoster et al., 1983). Do offenders weigh the costs and benefits of their choices based on their individual preferences, situation, and demographics?

II. Literature review

A previous study by Pogarsky (2002) attempted to test the individual variation in cost in correlation with rational choice theory with a hypothetical drunk driving scenario. The study asked participants to consider license suspension because of drunk driving. The author of this article (Bouffard, 2007) suggests that Pogarsky’s study is limited due to not considering the different sub-groups of offenders in this sample and fails to consider if would-be offenders consider license suspension to be a relevant consequence that will deter their criminal choices. Pogarsky also limited the study by disregarding the participant's demographics such as age, race, and impulsivity. Limited studies have been conducted on the individual variation in benefits that motivate offenders to commit crimes (Bouffard, 2007). In one study by Brezina and Piquero (2003), teenagers who have negative peer encouragement and low opposition to drug use report a physiologically rewarding experience due to participating in offending behavioral choices.

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III. Research Methods

The sample consisted of 212 undergraduate students from a midwestern university. According to the author, the university’s student population is 90% white and the sample was 92% white (Bouffard, 2007). The average age of the participants was 20.6 years of age and the university’s average student age was 21 years old. Lastly, 51.4% were male in comparison to 58% of the university population. The students were given a survey that consisted of three hypothetical scenarios; a drunk driving incident, a physical altercation at a party, and a shoplifting incident. The participants had to create their lists of consequences (seven costs and seven benefits) and then rate the severity of the consequences for the scenario. After completing the scenarios participants were asked to answer questions related to their characteristics, age, race, and gender. Their level of social bonding with teachers, peers, and family was tested by asking a Likert-type scale of 1 being the lowest and 5 being the most important. The level of self-control was tested using the 24-item scale (Grasmick, Tittle, Bursik, and Arneklev (1993) in which higher scores indicate lower levels of self-control. Participants were also asked if they had ever engaged in the following activities such as; shoplifting, DWI, and assault in their own experiences.

IV. Results

The results showed that the students had well-formed relationships with friends, family, and school faculty with an average rating of 4.1 on a scale of importance. Bouffard (2007) notes that the 24-item scale (Grasmick et al. (1993) reported a 3.37, just below the average self-control rating of 3.5. When asked about prior offenses, exactly 17% were involved in an assault and were not detected by law enforcement. 38% had previously shoplifted and 45% drove a vehicle while intoxicated. For the specific cost and benefit types by scenario, the legal deterrence cost of shoplifting scored 89.6%, and the benefit of personal gain was 63.2%. For drunk driving, there was 93.9% of the illegal aspect cost, and 52.8% chose “get home safe” as a benefit. For the simple assault scenario, 75.5% chose the cost was an injury as a deterrent, and the benefit chosen was self-defense at 33.5%. For the drunk driving scenario cost, males were less likely to report damage to a vehicle and showed less regard for a damaged vehicle (B = –.934, Wald = 5.715, p = .017). Gender influenced the costs and benefit choices for the students in all three scenarios. Males did not express concern about being caught by an employee for shoplifting. Males also perceived damaged cars as irrelevant whilst older people were more concerned about hitting someone if they drove under the influence (B = .126, Wald = 4.182, p = .041). Males were also more likely to fight to defend a partner (B = 1.484, Wald = 10.597, p = .001).

V. Conclusions

This article sought to evaluate the choices people make when faced with a hypothetical scenario based on rational choice theory. Few of the hypotheses were supported except; that older people were less likely to shoplift unless for necessity and were concerned about injuring others if drunk driving which suggests a concern for social consequences. The prior offense sample also operated as hypothesized as people who engaged in previous criminal behavior did not consider the legal cost of their choices. The hypothesis that higher social bonds and self-control would have positive effects on the cost and benefits did not manifest and did not correlate with rational choices. Regarding policy implications, Bouffard's (2007) policies that focus on certain and severe punishments have little or no effect on those who deem the consequences irrelevant. Males in this scenario did not care about apprehension from employees, so an example of policy implication would be to increase the number of store employees as a deterrent. Limitations of this study were limited by a small geographical area with predominately white males so the aspect of other ethnicities and females could not be properly demonstrated. Bouffard (2007) states future research should continue to analyze serious offenses with known offenders and examine other characteristics such as attitudes, backgrounds, and psychological

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Research Essay on Drunk Driving. (2024, February 28). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 26, 2024, from
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